Addict or User?

Dear Pen Pals,

What is the distinction between a drug "addict" and a drug "user" and why is the language important?

We asked Samona Marsh, a member of Megaphone’s Speakers Bureau team, to answer this question. Marsh has lived experience with poverty and drug use.

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A: I am a member on many boards in the Downtown Eastside and I have lived and played down here for more than 25 years. I would like to thank the Creator for allowing me the opportunity to answer this question.

Part of the problem with the term drug “addict” is that people see us all as “just junkies.” Why can't we say “someone with lived experience?”

My belief is when you are addicted to something, that means there is a problem. For me, the main problem is that most drugs are illegal, even though doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals that in fact have the same effects as the street drugs I partake in.

I’m not saying there are no people out there who are addicted to substances. There are. And in one form or another, we are all addicted to something, including legal substances like coffee or alcohol. If those were illegal, how many people would be criminals?

I use drugs, yes, but I am still a functioning person in my community. I sit on many governing boards, including at VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users); CAPUD (Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs); B.C./Yukon ADWS (B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors); and SWAV (Sex Workers Against Violence). I am also a peer support worker.

I was one of a handful of people who co-wrote Research 101: A Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside, a project convened by Hives for Humanity and supported by Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. I am also a co-author of articles on substance use in qualitative medical journals.

In summary, using substances daily does not necessarily make you addicted; it means you use drugs. Most importantly, "addict" is a label that only adds to  stigma. I sure hope this answers your question.

One more thing: Remember, if you are going to use, please be safe and use at an overdose prevention site or call a friend. Don't think you are above the overdose epidemic. “Fentanylities” are real; there are currently about 11 people a day dying across the country.

This is preventable. Don't let the opinions of other people make you hide away to get high. We all matter. I am tired of all of my friends dying.


Samona L. Marsh

Speakers Bureau team member

Do you have a question about drug use, addiction, mental health, relationships, sexuality or other life issues?

We’ve got you covered with real life advice from those in the know.

Building on the open dialogue around drug use and addiction fostered by Megaphone’s new Speakers Bureau program, we’re launching a monthly advice column that aims to encourage respectful discussion.

So fire away! We’ve got the awesome folks involved with Speakers Bureau, as well as some of our seasoned vendors, standing by to dole out their two cents’ worth.


Send your questions to [email protected], drop them off at the Megaphone office at 312 Main St. (At Cordova), or drop us a line on Twitter: @MegaphoneMag


The opinions expressed in Pen Pals are the sole opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Megaphone or Street Corner Media Foundation. Megaphone is committed to providing a forum for open dialogue and respectful exchange of ideas.

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